UH Physics assistant professor Philip von Doetinchem has good news to share. Since his start at the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa in 2013 he has been working together with colleagues from Columbia University, UC Berkeley, UCLA, MIT, and the
Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency on the design of a next-generation cosmic-ray balloon antiparticle experiment called GAPS. This fall, NASA selected the experiment for funding and Doetinchem's group alone will receive $487,259 for the next five years for the realization of their contribution.
Cosmic rays are created in very energetic events in our galaxy, such as Supernova explosions, and include familiar particles such as electrons and protons. However, antimatter particles including much rarer species such as positrons (antielectrons) or antiprotons can also be created in other processes. The search for cosmic-ray antideuterons goes even further as they are believed to make up only one out of 10 billion protons. Antideuterons, a bound state of antiprotons and antineutrons, are a particularly promising approach to shed some light on the nature of the mysterious dark matter in the Universe. Dark matter is more than five times more abundant than the matter that the solar system and stars are made of, but its exact nature is unknown.
GAPS, standing for General AntiParticle Spectrometer, is foreseen to find low-energy cosmic-ray antideuterons with a novel detection approach through the creation of exotic atoms. GAPS is designed to achieve its goals via a series of long duration balloon flights from Antarctica. The next four years will be used to design, construct, and test the payload before the first flight at the end of 2020. The University of Hawaiʻi group will coordinate the simulation tools and analysis pipeline development as well as qualify and calibrate half of the individual tracker detector modules.